Law School Case Brief
Preseault v. United States - 52 Fed. Cl. 667 (2002)
Under the plain language of the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Land Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, plaintiffs only may recover fees incurred "because of such proceeding," that is, because of a proceeding brought under section 28 U.S.C.S. § 1346(a)(2) or 28 U.S.C.S. § 1491. Section 4654(c) does not provide for the reimbursement of expenses incurred by plaintiffs before their decision to file suit in the Court of Federal Claims.
Plaintiffs J. Paul and Patricia Preseault ("plaintiffs") own a fee simple interest in land near the shore of Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont. The state government wanted to use an unused railroad right-of-way to establish a public trail on the plaintiffs’ property. The plaintiffs applied for attorneys' fees and expenses pursuant to the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Land Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 (URA) in particular, 42 U.S.C.S. § 4654(c). Furthermore, the plaintiffs filed in the United States Claims Court a Tucker Act takings claim against the United States. The URA only compensated the landowners for fees incurred because of their Tucker Act takings claim. Hence, this petition to decide whether and to what extent the plaintiffs could recover under the URA fees for a nonprofit legal services organization and attorneys' fees incurred in other legal actions prosecuted prior to the instant suit.
Under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Land Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 (URA), were the landowners entitled to recover fees for nonprofit legal services organization and attorneys' fees incurred in other legal actions prosecuted prior to the instant suit?
Yes, but only to the extent that it was reasonable.
The court engaged in statutory interpretation of the URA to determine whether the non-profit groups that represented the plaintiffs were to be paid by an award of attorney fees. The fact that the fees were not paid or owed by the landowners, but rather were born initially by a third party, or by attorneys appearing pro bono, did not prevent recovery of those fees under the URA. Fourteen (14) different attorneys represented the plaintiffs at various stages of the litigation. The invoices submitted by the plaintiffs were saturated with charges for efforts to transfer, copy, and review the case file and to research and review background legal issues among other things. Thus, the plaintiffs’ application for attorneys' fees was granted to an extent that the court decided was reasonable.
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